Experimental and theoretical studies have demonstrated that the polarization of actomyosin forces in the cytoskeleton of adherent cells is governed by local elastic stresses. Based on this phenomenon, and the established observation that the nucleus is mechanically connected to the extracellular matrix (ECM) via the cytoskeleton, we theoretically analyze here the active mechanical coupling between the nucleus, cytoskeleton and the ECM. The cell is modeled as an active spherical inclusion, containing a round nucleus at its center, and embedded in a 3D elastic matrix. We investigate three sources of cellular stress: spreading-induced stress, actomyosin contractility and chromatin entropic forces. Formulating the coupling of actomyosin contractility to the local stress we predict the consequences that the nucleus, cytoskeleton and ECM mechanical properties may have on the overall force-balance in the cell and the perinuclear acto-myosin polarization. We demonstrate that the presence of the nucleus induces symmetry breaking of the elastic stress that, we predict, elastically tends to orient actomyosin alignment tangentially around the nucleus; the softer the nucleus or the matrix, the stronger is the preference for tangential alignment. Spreading induced stresses may induce radial actomyosin alignment near stiff nuclei. In addition, we show that in regions of high actomyosin density myosin motors have an elastic tendency to orient tangentially as often occurs near the cell periphery. These conclusions highlight the role of the nucleus in the regulation of cytoskeleton organization and may provide new insight into the mechanics of stem cell differentiation involving few fold increase in nucleus stiffness.
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© 2015 The Royal Society of Chemistry.